Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: Food52 Vegan

For a long time, vegan cooking tended to fall to one of two extremes: bland dishes filled with unusual grains and hard-to-find vegetables, or recipes that used copious amounts of faux meats and "cheeze" in an attempt to recreate non-vegan favorites.

Thankfully, those days are long past. Modern vegan cookbooks are full of vibrant flavors and bright colors, shining the spotlight on a wide variety of vegetables and utilizing minimally-processed alternative protein sources. These kinds of cookbooks help us vegans remember why we went that route in the first place: because food doesn't need animal products in order to be delicious and diverse. Indeed, vegans today have a wide array of amazing cookbooks at their disposal, each filled with recipes more tempting than the last.

And while there are plenty of good cookbooks out there already, there are always room for more. Thus, vegans everywhere will surely revel in the pages of Food52 Vegan, which are filled with plenty of new recipes to fuel meal plans for weeks to come. Gena Hamshaw has been writing a column on veganism for foodie website Food52 for years, and this cookbook offers a lovely selection of favorites from the column plus plenty of brand new ideas.

Food52 Vegan contains the usual spread of recipe categories: Breakfast, Soups, Main Dishes, and so forth. Each chapter is packed with delicious-sounding recipes. Enjoy Tempeh and Sweet Potato Hash for breakfast (or dinner, for that matter), have a bowl of Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili for lunch, and snack on Parsnip Fries with Spicy Harissa Mayonnaise in the afternoon. Dine on Kabocha Squash and Tofu Curry for dessert, and finish off your day with a few pieces of Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti and a cup of coffee.

Each recipe comes a headnote that will make you hungry, and the recipe directions are clear and easy to follow. Gorgeous photographs are sprinkled throughout the text; most of the recipes are accompanied by a picture. Not only do these recipes sound amazing, but readers will be pleased to see that most can easily be made using ingredients available at the local grocery store; once your pantry is stocked with the essentials, only the occasional trip to the nearest Whole Foods or other health food store will be necessary.

Above all, pick up Food52 Vegan with plans of getting hungry and finding something yummy to eat. You will not be disappointed.


I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Friday, November 20, 2015

All About CSAs

Many, many years ago, I joined my first community supported agriculture (CSA) program. I was pretty new to the idea, but I loved the thought of getting veggies and fruits from a small, local farm. I've been a vegetarian for a long time, so getting boxes of fresh produce every week seemed like a smart idea.

So what exactly is it? CSA stands for community supported agriculture. In a CSA program, you are essentially buying a short-term share of the farm. Members pledge up front to support the farm financially for a certain period of time, and in return they receive a weekly "dividend" of locally-grown, freshly-harvested produce. The farm, on the other hand, gets capital up front to pay for plants/seeds, fertilizer, water, and other farm needs. It's a win-win situation.

People join a CSA for a number of reasons. For many, locally-grown food is a big draw; when your food hasn't traveled very far to get to you, it lessens your overall carbon footprint. Others are interested in eating seasonally. Some are specifically looking for organic goods. Some want to support a small business. Others just want the convenience of having a big box of produce packaged up for them!

Since that first CSA so many years ago, I've been a member of a number of others in various locations throughout the country. If you're considering finding a CSA of your own, there are a number of things to consider during your research.

What do they grow?
Well, they mostly grow vegetables and fruit. But what kinds, specifically? Nowadays, most CSA programs offer a general list on their website of what kinds of produce they grow. Sometimes, this is organized by season: we have apples in the fall, salad greens and citrus fruits in the winter, etc.. Sometimes, it'll be month-by-month, or with some kind of fancy chart listing their "normal" produce down the side, months at the top, and check marks for which months that particular food is usually available. Many have a link on their website (or Facebook page) listing the contents of the current week's box, so you can always check up on that for a few weeks to get an idea of what kinds of crops they have. If they don't list what they grow on their site, be sure to contact the farmer or organizer for more information! Most CSAs send out weekly emails detailing the contents of the box, and farmers are happy to compile a list of prior examples for potential members.

A lot of CSAs pride themselves on offering "unusual" types of produce. CSAs were where I was first introduced to pomegranates, kohlrabi, fennel, jujubees, mulberries, banana squash, and more. Other CSAs prefer to offer more of a "normal" selection: spinach, salad greens, apples, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, etc. Checking out their offerings ahead of time makes it easier to determine whether or not the things they grow are a good fit for your family.

In addition to vegetables and fruits, some CSAs offer a wide variety of other goodies. Some farms might grow tree nuts and include a bag when in season. Other items I've found in my boxes in the past include dry beans, dry (local!) rice, popcorn kernels, bundles of herbs, herb seedlings to plant at home, even jams and pickles made by the farmer! Farms that offer eggs for sale might give you a free half-dozen when they have a surplus.

In the winter, your CSA just might inundate you with hard squashes.
This is a good problem to have.

Do you like what they grow?
It doesn't do any good to have all those fresh vegetables and fruits in your crisper drawers if many of them are ones your family won't actually eat! Certainly, one of the joys of CSAs is that they might introduce you to new foods and inspire you to try out new ways of cooking ones you're already familiar with. But what if your CSA sends out two or three bags of different salad greens in every box, and your family just doesn't like that much salad? What if you get a dozen oranges per delivery during citrus season, but you can't stand peeling them or having your hands smell like orange for the rest of the day? What if you're allergic to cantaloupe or watermelon or strawberries? What if you just flat-out hate okra? Some CSAs offer a certain amount of customization (and they are much more likely to be amenable to deletions or exchanges if you have food allergies), but most just pack every box with the same contents. If the farm you're looking at grows a lot of things you simply don't like or can't/won't eat, it might not be a good fit for you.

When do they operate?
In some parts of the country, CSA farms operate and offer produce boxes year-round, but in others you might only be able to find spring and summer programs. It totally depends on the climate, the size of the farm, and what all they grow. When considering different farms for CSA membership, be sure to know exactly how their growing schedule meshes with your needs.

How often do they deliver?
Most CSAs offer weekly boxes. Some offer bi-weekly (every other week), which might be a better fit depending on your family's eating habits. Almost all are perfectly happy to let you cancel or skip your box for the week (usually due to vacation), so long as you provide proper notice ahead of time.

How do you actually get your box?
While some CSAs do in fact deliver straight to your door, members usually pay a premium for this service. Much more common is the idea of a drop point or pick-up location. All the boxes for a general area are delivered to one location (sometimes a store or farmers' market, but more often a personal home, usually one with plenty of shade or an accessible garage so that the contents will stay cool and fresh until picked up). Members know when their delivery date is, and the boxes are generally guaranteed to be there by a certain time, so that you can plan for the best time to pick it up. Some CSAs prefer to have these pick-up locations staffed; you will know that your boxes are available on a particular day during a specific time period (usually a few hours), and you are expected to pick it up then.

How often do you pay?
For many small farmers, one of the biggest appeal of having a CSA program is getting money up-front to pay the bills, as it were. Your dues pay for the costs of operating a farm. For this reason, many CSAs require members to pay seasonally or quarterly. At the very least, you can expect to be required to pay monthly; week-to-week is not particularly sustainable for the farmer, and it makes planning and packing boxes hard. Some may offer yearly or bi-yearly (six months at a time) memberships. In general, the price-per-box is less when you pay for longer periods of time up-front.

How much does it cost? And how much do you get for your money?
Some CSAs offer only one size of box, usually enough to feed an average family (4-ish people). Some might offer a smaller box, suitable for a married couple without kids, or larger boxes for larger families. I have even seen "individual" CSA boxes.

Some CSAs will give you the dimensions of the different box sizes, while others might compare them to a standard-size paper grocery bag (or two). Others might instead give an estimated number of items in each week's box.

Encourage your entire family to eat more veggies! Join a CSA today!

Do I have to return the empty box? 
Those cardboard delivery boxes can be expensive, and different CSAs handle delivery boxes in different ways. Some might send the box home with you, but ask that you bring back the empty box from the prior week with each new delivery. If this is the case, they will ask you to do your best to treat the box gently so that it can be reused over and over again.  Others might expect you to transfer your produce to a box or bag of your own on the spot, leaving the initial delivery box behind so that they'll be able to reuse them right away. Your CSA should make it clear from the beginning what their expectations are. (And it is worth your while to obey these directives! When too many boxes are lost or destroyed too quickly, it may drive up your CSA dues in the future.)

Are there add-ons available?
Many small farms also have chickens, and a weekly egg share is a common add-on to many CSA boxes; for an additional fee, you can add a dozen or half dozen eggs to every box, or every other box. Some farms also can provide meat or milk, so be sure to look into this if it interests you! Some might simply offer turkeys at Thanksgiving, while others might have cow-share programs or offer raw dairy (either openly or on the down-low, depending on what the laws are like in your state).

I have been a member of a number of CSAs that offer additional items for an additional fee, paid either ahead of time (they'll come in your next scheduled box) or at the site of pick-up. Perhaps you can get extra bags of blueberries or strawberries when they're in season, or nuts, or local honey. These items might be grown on your CSA farm, or they might be for sale through a collaborative effort with another local farm. If you're interested in preserving, many farms will offer bulk discounts on certain items when they're in season; think of tomatoes for canning, berries for jams, cucumbers for pickling.

Do they offer community events?
Many small farms delight in hosting community events for their members. These may include seasonal potlucks or parties, you-pick style harvest events, family pumpkin patches, or regular farm tours. If you are interested in your membership going beyond just getting your box of goodies every week, then see what kinds of events go on at your farm! These kinds of events may be member-only, while others may be open to others by invitation. Some might even be public events, open to anyone who is interested in checking out the farm.

One CSA I was a member of hosts an annual winter vendor festival, where you can pick up extra produce and holiday gifts at the same time!

Are they certified organic?
For many people interested in CSAs, one of the biggest draws is getting produce that is organic. Many small farms know this. If organic is important to you, it is definitely worth asking about about up front. But it's also important to know that being certified USDA organic by the government is an expensive and time-consuming process. Many small farms might not have the resources to actually be certified, or they might not yet have had the time to work through all the requisite paperwork, but that doesn't necessarily mean they don't use organic practices on their farm. Ask! Most farmers are happy to discuss their farming practices with you. Do they use pesticides? Is it indiscriminately sprayed on everything, or is it a last-resort-type of option? Do they stick to herbicides that are acceptable within organic practices? Do they avoid GMO crops? (For many, this might be one of the biggest reasons to go organic!) Get to know your farmer and they way they manage their fields!

So how do I find one?
Hands down, the best way to find a CSA near you is through Local Harvest. This handy website allows you to search for farms and other sources of local food by zip code or city. You can find basic information about the farm and their CSA program here, as well as reviews; follow through to the farm's own website for more details.

Another great way to find CSA programs near you is to check out the local farmers' market; many small farms will have a weekly market booth, and you can find out information about their CSA and even interview the farmer on the spot, if you desire. And there's always Google, of course; a search for "CSA +yourcity" will no doubt give you some options.


Have you ever been a member of a CSA? What did you like (or dislike) about it?


This post is shared at the Happy, Healthy, Green, & Natural Party Blog Hop on 11/16/2015.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Pumpkin Bread

It seems like southern California has finally gotten the memo about the change in seasons.

October should not be this warm.

It's officially been autumn for more than a month, but we were still seeing temperatures in the 80s and 90s for pretty much all of October. But apparently, now that it's November, the weather has finally caught up.

A few nights ago, we had a glorious thunder storm. I was overjoyed. Ecstatic. Giddy. Seriously, though, every time the lightning flashed, I ran over to my husband so I could share how ridiculously happy I was. I fell asleep to the sound of rain soaking the drought-stricken ground.

Of course, the fact that the weather has, until just recently, been hot hasn't stopped me from getting my autumn baking on. I've been making cookies, muffins, beer bread, and plenty of pumpkin goodies. And now that I've finally gotten around to baking the culinary pumpkin I picked up at one of San Diego's many pumpkin patches, we'll be eating pumpkin everything for some time to come.

I've made pumpkin bread three times within the past few weeks. I think I've finally perfected my recipe, after changing things pretty much every time I make it. This is bread has the perfect texture, is sweet enough without being sickeningly sweet, egg-free, and absolutely delicious.

Pumpkin Bread

1½ c flour
½ tsp salt
½ c sugar
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cloves
equivalent of 2 eggs (or just use actual eggs if that's how you swing)
1 c pumpkin puree
¼ c applesauce
¼ c oil
drizzle of maple syrup (optional)
½ c chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Sift together flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin, applesauce, oil, egg replacer*, and maple syrup, if using. Combine with dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. Fold in nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes.

*I am currently using Orgran brand egg replacer, so I mix the powder (2 tsp for the equivalent of 2 eggs) in with my dry ingredients, then add the necessary water (1/4 c in this case) to my wet ingredients. I have also made this with ground flax in the past, in which case I'd mix both the flax (2 tbsp for the equivalent of 2 eggs) and the water (6 tbsp) in with the wet ingredients.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Touching Bellies, Touching Lives

Ever since I got pregnant with my Little Bug, I have been somewhat obsessed with the entire process of pregnancy, labor, and birth. True story. As any birth junkie can attest to, once you get bitten by the birth bug, you never lose that fascination.

And despite my own rocky history with pregnancy, I too remain fascinated. I read every pregnancy birth I can get my hands on, sometimes reviewing newly-released ones for SF Book Review. I love talking pregnancy with my friends. I celebrate their pregnancies and revel in their birth stories. I read articles and blog posts and never, never stop learning.

I know I'm not alone in my obsession. And for people who love birth as much as I do, getting to read a book like Touching Bellies, Touching Lives by Judy Gabriel is a real treat.

Gabriel fell in love with Mexico at a fairly young age. Later, as an adult, she spent weeks and months at a time traveling through the southern parts of Mexico, meeting with traditional midwives and hearing their stories. Her book gives voice to a group of people that is in danger of disappearing completely, as Mexico adopts the worst of Western practices regarding how labor and birth should be "managed."

Many of us are already well aware of the problems that pregnant women face in America; the over-medicalization of normal, healthy, low-risk pregnancies has been getting plenty of media attention in recent years, including on some rather prominent news sites. We know that interventions are over-used, that the cesarean rate is too high, and that birth trauma is a very real issue.

But what we hear less about is how some of these problems are sneaking into other countries and cultures. Touching Bellies, Touching Lives has opened my eyes in a lot of ways. I hadn't realized that midwifery in Mexico is currently facing the same challenges that midwifery in the United States faced decades ago, that mistrust and lies are driving women away from traditional care and into hospitals. I hadn't realized that the use of pitocin (artificial oxytocin, which is the primary hormone that drives contractions during labor) had become so standardized, that even many midwives used pitocin routinely now and that pregnant women asked for it. I hadn't realized that in the hospitals in Mexico, the cesarean rate not only rivals that of the U.S., but in some places surpasses it (the book quotes 45% overall in Mexico, with some private hospitals having rates as high as 90%).

However, the heart of Touching Bellies, Touching Lives lies in Gabriel's interviews with dozens and dozens of traditional midwives throughout the region. There are so many stories scattered throughout the pages of this relatively small book, stories where women tell of how they became midwives in the first place, where they learned the skills they use to care for pregnant women, and some of the more memorable births they attended. These midwives tell of learning their practice from established midwives and local healers, of attending cursos (government-sponsored courses in midwifery), and of the way their practices have evolved over time.

Many of the midwives feel deeply drawn to midwifery by God; many described it as a calling of sorts, and many said they became midwives because there was no one else in the area to help laboring women give birth. They talk about using the rebozo (a long, wide scarf) to help reposition babies and ease labor pains, about traditional remedies for pregnancy and labor, and the value of regular belly massage throughout pregnancy. In fact, one of Gabriel's primary methods of locating midwives was to ask about women who massage the bellies of pregnant women!

Touching Bellies, Touching Lives is a fantastic and informative read. While it will appeal most strongly to those already interested in pregnancy, labor, and birth, readers of all kinds will be able to see interesting parallels between the over-medicalization of childbirth in the U.S. and similar trends in Mexico. Gabriel's passion for midwifery is clear in every page of this delightful book, which is a true pleasure to read.


I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: You First

Actress, singer, and author Lea Michele is perhaps best known for her role on popular television show Glee, but she used to be just like the rest of us, working and dreaming of bigger and better things. Michele attributes a lot of her success to the fact that she has spent a lot of time not only defining her goals, but writing them down and holding herself accountable for taking steps to actually achieve them. She's a big proponent of journaling, and her new book, You First, is meant to help others who are interested in keeping a journal but have no idea where to start.

You First is essentially a guided journal, a collection of writing prompts that will help readers get writing! The book is divided into four sections. You is all about--you guessed it--YOU! Michele believes that understanding yourself is essential to happiness in life, and that in order to grow and move forward, we must first take care of ourselves. So this first section covers a few different ideas related to those themes. Michele encourages readers/writers to explore their own personal roots, to learn more about family history and record some stories for posterity.

This section also encourages us to not only start exercising, but to write about how it makes us feel; recognizing the real ways that exercise improves our day-to-day lives will make it easier to keep at it. Same thing with food. Michele does not recommend a particular diet, but she does encourage readers to think about the food they eat and record how that food makes us feel.

"A tree simply can't blossom unless it's healthy and strong. If you're going to achieve everything you want in life--not just today, or tomorrow, but for months and years to come--then you must give those roots love."

Section two is all about Ambition, and it encourages readers/writers to make goals, both short-term and long-term. Michele wants readers to think about our role models and to write about why exactly those people inspire us. Also included are some fun list-making sections; challenge yourself to read more books, explore your city more thoroughly, or to learn new skills!

The Relationships chapter is all about friends, partners, and co-workers. Understanding ourselves better allows us to define what we need from different kinds of relationships, so writing our thoughts out can help us deepen those relationships and attract the kind of people we need in our lives. Michele encourages readers/writers to think about the qualities we look for in friends, the things we want from our significant other (and any deal breakers, too!), ways we can strive to create a harmonious atmosphere at work, and lots more.

"This is about sketching out your dreams, and how you'd like your friends and your relationship to bolster and augment your life. By putting it down on paper, you can grow a current relationship or find one--and, ultimately, deepen your relationship with yourself."

The last section deals with Happiness. This is where Michele really delves into the "you first" mentality. What makes you happy, truly happy? This chapter has prompts for writing about hobbies old and new, charity work, and gratitude. Ideally, thinking about these topics will help readers/writers make some real changes in their lives that will bring about more happiness.

You First is a great starter journal that will help readers get thinking (and writing!) about many aspects of their lives. For anyone who has ever wanted to start a personal journal or diary but needs some ideas on what to write about, this guided journal is a fantastic idea.


I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

5 Reasons I'll Never Be the Crunchiest Person I Know

Guys, I've got a confession to make. My husband will probably make fun of me for acknowledging this (just a little, and in a loving tone, of course), but inside my head, I've started to identify with the term "crunchy."

That's right. I'm a little bit crunchy. Not super crunchy, and I would never, ever under any circumstances use the term "granola" to describe myself, but I do feel a little crunchy. So many of the practices I've embraced in recent years, especially since my son's birth, are on that end of the spectrum. Home birth, cloth diapers, babywearing, baby-led weaning, full-term breastfeeding, and other things that just make so much sense to me are considered to be crunchy. And I'm okay with that. And I'm okay with the label.

One slightly crunchy mama.

I'm not only okay with it, but on a certain level, I've come to embrace it.

And then there's other things I don't really talk as much about that also make me embrace the crunchy label. Things like using a menstrual cup, or my part-time use of "family cloth" (otherwise known as cloth toilet paper), or the way I'm starting to lean more and more toward making my own cleaning supplies and such at home.

And then... well, then there's the crunchy things I've tried... and kinda-sorta failed at.

So I guess I have two confessions to make. Or three. There are some ways I have failed at being crunchy.

There are also some crunchy things I've never tried. And I currently have no intention of ever doing so.

1. No-Poo.

Have you ever heard the term "no-poo"? If you haven't, it basically means not using shampoo and/or conditioner on your hair, the way most people do. Wait, I hear you thinking. You mean, some people voluntarily choose not to wash their hair?!? Gross!!! Well, while some people do truly forgo using anything other than water on their hair, most people who no-poo use something, just not shampoo. Some people use baking soda to "wash" their hair, followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse. Some people make hair rinses using all kind of natural ingredients: honey, coconut milk, castille soap, and more.

Here's the thing. The most common method of no-poo, the baking soda & apple cider vinegar combo, is really, really horrible for your hair. I'm not going to go into the details here, but suffice to say that it can seriously mess up the PH balance of your hair. Sometimes it can make your hair look great for awhile, but this form of no-poo ultimately isn't doing your body any favors.

So what's a crunchy girl to do? To be truthful, I tried baking soda and apple cider vinegar for about a month before a little more research showed why I was suddenly losing more hair than usual. So I tried a bunch of other alternatives, but none of them really worked for me. And after more than 4 months of being stuck in the "transition" phase, I had had enough. Enough no-poo, enough natural hair care. I went back to regular shampoo. Well, expensive organic shampoo that didn't contain some of the more questionable ingredients, but store-bought shampoo nonetheless.

No regrets.

2. Oil Pulling

Never heard of oil pulling? The basic concept is this: first thing in the morning, put a tablespoon of oil (coconut oil is used most commonly) in your mouth and swish for 20 minutes. Spit out (into the trash can, not the sink), rinse well, and brush. This practice can (supposedly) improve the health of your teeth and gums. Other people claim it has further-reaching benefits, helping with infections (by pulling toxins out of the body), headaches, skin conditions, and more.

I tried oil pulling once. Well, I lasted for three days. And then I gave up.

Why? Because it's gross, that's why. Swishing oil around in your mouth is gross. Aside from the logistical fact that it's hard to go for twenty minutes first thing in the morning without talking (I do have a 3.5-year-old, after all, and he gets up early too), I just couldn't get over how gross it felt. And tasted. So I quit.

I don't care what the supposed benefits are. I'll find other ways to keep my teeth healthy, thank you very much.

3. Oil Cleansing

If you've never heard of the oil cleansing method, it's basically using oil to, well, cleanse. Your face.

Here's the idea: like dissolves like. So using rubbing oil into your face will dissolve the dirty oil that's already there, which you then wipe away with a warm, wet cloth. The dirt is removed, and a thin layer of oil remains behind, replacing what you took away (meaning, it doesn't dry out your skin).

Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Well, maybe. But a lot of people swear by it.

This is currently on the list of things I might try someday, but will probably not stick with. Why? Because it looks too complicated to me. And expensive. Good oils are expensive, and while I do keep a few on hand for making certain personal care products with (like sweet almond oil, and jojoba oil), I'm just not interested in buying a bunch of different types. Because, like with so many things in natural body care, chances are good that it'd take a good deal of experimenting before I discovered the "right" combination of oils for me. I'm also not sure I would want to deal with any kind of transition period; if I had a hard time with my hair being weird, I don't think I could handle my face breaking out or getting dry or whatever. Hair can just be stuffed into a mom perma-bun when it's too greasy, but there's nothing I can do to disguise my face.

Besides. My facial skin care routine works just fine. And my skin is already perfectly clear thanks to a healthy diet. Why mess with what's already working for me?

This picture does nothing to prove my relative crunchiness. But everyone loves a sunrise!

4. Breast Milk: The Magic Cure

The fact that I'm still (mostly voluntarily) nursing my 3.5-year-old makes it pretty clear that I'm a believer in breast milk. My son nursed exclusively for more than 6 months, and continued nursing all night until after his 2nd birthday, and today is still not quite ready to give up his once- or twice-a-day nursing sessions.

I think breast milk is magical. I believe it has helped tremendously in my efforts to ward off illnesses, and has helped Bug recover more quickly when he has gotten sick.

But I've never used my breast milk to literally heal anything.

It's kind of a running joke among crunchy mamas that breast milk can heal anything. Pink eye? Apply a few drops of breast milk. Nipple blisters? Let some of that mama milk dry on them. Diaper rash? Add breast milk, let dry, and the rash will soon be gone! Ear infection? There are natural remedies for that, and one of them is breast milk.

We nursing mamas love our breast milk, and with good reason. It's magical stuff.

But I've never used mine for anything other than nourishing my baby. And I'm more than okay with that.

5. Cod Liver Oil

Lots of people in the natural health community think that cod liver oil is magical. It's used as a daily supplement by many, and it's (supposedly) a fantastic source of omega-3s, vitamin A, and vitamin D.

There has been some recent controversy regarding fermented cod liver oil, which I have read about with fascination. Lots of people in some of the online communities I am part of have been freaking out about the revelation that fermented cod liver oil isn't really the real deal.

Of course, the news doesn't affect me personally. Because I never have, and never will, take cod liver oil, fermented or otherwise.

This should be somewhat obvious. I am a vegan-leaning vegetarian. I haven't eaten meat, including fish, in more than eleven years. I don't believe that there is a single nutrient in cod liver oil that can't be adequately obtained from plant sources. So there's no way I'd ever consider taking it. End of story.


So now tell me your stories. How are you crunchy? How will you *never* be crunchy?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: Things I've Said To My Children

Every parent has them. Those "I can't believe I just said that!" moments. Kids of all ages are well-known for testing our patience, our tolerance, our tempers. And sometimes they just do things that seem so bizarre and incomprehensible to our rational, logic-driven adult brains!

For every parent who has later laughed about (or shaken their head over) the strange things we say in the heat of the moment, graphic designer Nathan Ripperger presents Things I've Said To My Children, a lovely hardcover coffee table-worthy book full of poster-style illustrations of some of the odder things Ripperger can remember having said to his own offspring. Phrases like "We are in a grocery store, not a battle arena." Or "We do not hit our friends with musical instruments."

As a parent myself, I can not only identify with the premise of this book, but I can clearly recall having said many similar things myself. I'm pretty sure I've warned my son off of putting sand or leaves in his underwear before. I know for a fact that, within the past six months, I've said something almost identical to "Don't lick my arm! That's what weird kids do!" I have taken the royal "we" on many occasions, admonishing my son that we don't do this or reminding him that we must do this in a different way.

Aside from the general humor and comfort parents get from knowing that their children are not the only strange ones, readers will also enjoy Ripperger's bold, colorful illustrations. It's always fun to bring a lighthearted twist to the difficulties of parenting, and these pictures will help readers laugh a little at themselves. From the picture of a baby chick with a shark fin strapped to its back to a carton of spilled milk with a paintbrush lying nearby, readers will be smiling and maybe even giggling a little bit.

This book would be an ideal gift to anyone who currently has or has ever had younger children. Put it on display in your living room and let your fellow parent friends have a laugh!


I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mixed Observations From My 3.5-Year-Old

Welcome to the September 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids Blogging
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have let their children take over writing and sharing.


I know I've probably said this at every stage of my son's life, but this current stage has got to be my favorite.

Specifically, I love how verbal Bug is. I love how his use of language has evolved over the past few years, how's he's always gaining more vocabulary words and improving his ability to clearly pronounce the words he already knows. I love how he's forming opinions on various subjects. I love how he likes to tell little stories about things that have happened recently or describe the plotlines of books he's been reading.

And, as any parent knows (or will know soon enough, if they've only got pre-verbal kids so far), sometimes the things that come out of his little mouth are simply amazing. Sometimes he makes me laugh, and other times he offhandedly offers up comments that would be offensive in different circumstances and from a different speaker. Sometimes his astute grasp of matters just blows my mind.

Showing off his glitter tattoo from a library event. He wanted a spider that was yellow and orange and red and pink.

I know it's impossible to really accurately portray just how much I love the things my Bug says using written words, so I'll just pass the mic to him, so to speak. Below are a handful of quotes from my little guy, along with a smattering of pictures of recent creations and general cuteness. Enjoy!

He always loves coming to Penzey's, the spice store, with me, probably because he gets to color and then hang his artwork on their wall.


First, a brief interview:

How old are you?
     I'm three years old.
What's your favorite cartoon and what's it about? 
     The world one [Word World], how to make letters. How to make things.
What are you good at doing?
What's your favorite color?
     Black. And green, blue, and red.
What's your favorite animal?
     Yucky snails right now, because I really love them. And kitties do love snails!
What's your favorite book?
      Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
What's your favorite game to play with Daddy?
     Pathfinder. First, I need a little guy, then I find a path, then I go into the big Ender Portal,
     because the Ender Portal that I go in is very, very dangerous.
If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
     Mommy. Or Green.
What is your favorite food?
     Vegetables. Pasta and chickpeas.
What is your favorite toy?
     My rabbit. It's hiding somewhere.
What's your favorite thing to do outside?
     Make construction sites.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
     I really want to go to work. [He wouldn't specify what kind. And that was the end of that.]

In case you're wondering, this is how Bug plays Pathfinder. We'll make a (tabletop) gamer out of this boy yet!


When I fart in the water it makes bubbles! And now I'm gonna make a really big fart. And it'll make a really, really, really, really big bubble. And then I'll go inside it. But then you can pop it and I'll be free again.


Mommy, your butt is so squishy!

A self-portrait.


I love the rabbit song. But then a skeleton came along and died the bunny. And now it's gone forever.

A little creation.


Sometimes, Bug and I play this game where we go back and forth saying different parts of each other that we love. And sometimes, he picks rather obscure things about me to love.

Me: I love your... shoulders!
Bug: I love your elbows!
Me: I love your tummy!
Bug: I love your belly button!
Me: I love your ears!
Bug: I love your earwax!


I love you right up to the moon! And then over the moon, and into a forest, and through a field, and into a barn.

Playing with watercolors. His grandma says he's channeling a little Bob Ross here.


Bug: I like Warrior 2. I also like Warrior 5.
Me (perplexed): Warrior 5? How do you do Warrior 5?
Bug: You put one leg up like this, and both hands down. No, Mama, you're doing it wrong.

You know how Trader Joe's gives stickers to kids at the register? Well, this is where most of Bug's usually end up.

Showing off the (somewhat creepy-looking, but don't tell him that!) mask he made.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon September 8 with all the carnival links.)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: Einkorn

These days, "gluten-free" has become a nutritional buzz word, and people right and left are ditching wheat products and claiming that their health has improved because of it. While there's still a fair amount of debate about exactly how wide-spread gluten intolerance is, it's hard to deny the abundant anecdotal evidence.

But is it really wheat that's the problem? What if the bigger issue is modern wheat, bred for high yields and specific characteristics to make farming easier? What if these changes have also altered something fundamental in wheat, something that our digestive systems haven't caught up with yet?

After all, our ancestors have been eating wheat since pretty much forever. If we could go back to eating those ancient varieties of wheat, would our bodies have an easier time digesting the gluten? Some people believe the answer is yes, and einkorn wheat, a relic grain that fell out of favor a long time ago, is starting to make a resurgence as a result.

But einkorn behaves differently than modern durum wheat in recipes. For readers who are interested in this ancient type of wheat but unsure of what to actually do with it, author Carla Bartolucci presents Einkorn: Recipes For Nature's Original Wheat. Bartolucci is a believer, and the preface to the book details how her oldest daughter struggled with an undiagnosed gluten sensitivity for years, and how they ultimately turned to einkorn wheat as a solution. The book also talks extensively about the differences between the gluten-forming proteins in einkorn verses modern wheat.

Because the gluten develops differently in einkorn wheat, you can't just substitute it in your regular recipes and expect the same result. Einkorn is very different, and Bartolucci has spent many years experimenting and adapting recipes to suit the different properties of einkorn flour. The result is that a gluten sensitivity no longer has to mean going gluten-free for many people; instead, readers of all kinds can enjoy the health benefits of recipes baked with einkorn wheat.

And Bartolucci certainly offers a wide variety of recipes. There's an extensive chapter on various types of bread, of course, but readers will also delight in being able to make breakfast dishes like scones and pancakes. There are cookies, like Goodness Graham Crackers or classic Chocolate Chip Cookies, and cakes like Dairy-Free Coconut Pound Cake or Brooklyn Blackout Cake. Pie crusts, cinnamon rolls, pasta noodles, pizza dough, and more can all be made with einkorn using the recipes in this book. There is even a chapter devoted to "Street Food," so readers can feast on cravables like Korean Dumplings and Soft German Pretzels.

Each recipe is very clearly written, and the pictures will make your stomach rumble. Bartolucci goes into extensive detail on making sourdough or yeast levains, offers techniques for turning the dough that is often super wet, provides instructions for how readers can sprout einkorn wheat berries at home for additional health benefits, and more. The recipes in here cover pretty much all basic wheat-based foods that those who face going gluten-free (or who are already there) might be miss the most.

Baking with einkorn still remains a daunting idea for many, but with a cookbook like Einkorn, those who are determined will have a much easier time finding their way.


I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The S-Word

Bug and I took a trip to the Natural History Museum the other day.

He absolutely loved everything about it, but he was especially enamored of all the hands-on exhibits. Of course, hands-on activities can also cause problems when more than one kid wants to play.

The museum had this one computer in particular that my son thought was super neat. It featured a bunch of wildflowers native to California, and you could click on individual ones to see a lovely painting of the flower, a picture of a dried specimen, and a lovely photo of it growing in the wild.

Shortly after Bug sat down at this computer, another little boy sidled up. I have no idea how old he was, because I'm a terrible judge of that, but I could tell that he was definitely older than Bug. So this boy came over and said, "I want a turn!"

Bug just ignored him, completely enthralled as he was. So I turned to the boy and said "You can play with it once he's done."

The boy watched as Bug looked at a second flower, going back and forth between the different pictures, and then started to reach for the controls, saying "It's my turn now."

To which I replied, "It'll be your turn once he's all done." The boy gave me a confused look, watched for another minute, and then got bored and wandered off.

So I'm just going to put this out here. I absolutely hate the current standard of "sharing." Learn to share. Let him have a turn. You're all done now; someone else wants to play. Why is this what we're teaching our kids these days? I don't understand it. It seems like many parents are teaching their children that instant gratification is their due, that once they express interest in something, they deserve to have it right now.

And if you dare to challenge the status quo, if you're that parent that doesn't force your kid to give up something of theirs the moment another child asks for it, whether it's toys or food of anything else, you get dirty looks and under-the-breath comments disparaging your parenting skills.

I see it all the time. A parent forces their child off the swings within seconds of another child saying they want to use it. A mother glares at other parents when the line to go down the slide doesn't move fast enough. One child steals borrows a toy from a second child, and when the second child protests and tries to take it back, their parent tells them that they they've been playing with that toy all day so now they need to share.

He's having fun. So no, I'm not going to make him get off just yet.

It drives me crazy, and it comes from all directions. At the aforementioned museum, my son tried to take a toy dinosaur away from a younger girl, and I redirected him to a different toy (there were plenty of lonely, unattended toys in the area) as the girl's father stepped over and to tell her that she needed to give my son a turn. I pointed out that there were plenty of other toys, and my son could wait until she was done, and the father looked baffled. "She'll play with it all day if you let her," he told me. So? If there are other toys for other kids, why is it a problem to let her play with, even monopolize something she's interested in?

Later that day, we sat down at a table to have a snack. There were already people at the table, and when the woman saw Bug looking longingly at her child's pretzels, she immediately told the boy to give some to my son. Aside from the fact that she never even asked if I was okay with my son eating pretzels, I just can't stand the message this sends. We shouldn't be teaching our children to give their anything of theirs away simply because someone else wants it.

Kids tend to naturally covet things that others have; isn't it better that we teach them not to indulge in that impulse to take? Patience is a useful skill, and I'd rather my son learn to wait for things rather than that the world owes him everything he wants right now.

Don't get me completely wrong. I believe in sharing, but I don't want it to be forced. The desire to share should come from within, not be imposed by others. A child, especially a two- or three-year-old, shouldn't be punished because they don't want to share their toys (I see this all the time too--Since you can't share, we'll just have to go home now.). And I fully recognize that my three-and-a-half-year-old doesn't really understand the concept the way we do as adults.

If my son has brought a pile of toys to the sand pit at the park and another child is eyeing them hopefully, I might encourage Bug to see if the other child wants to play with something he's not currently using. If he's playing with the train table at Barnes & Noble and another child shows up, I point out that someone else would like to play, and maybe he would like to offer them one of the engines so that they can ride the rails with him. If someone else has a toy that he thinks is really cool, I suggest that he ask the other child if they'd be interested in trading it (temporarily, of course) for one of his toys. (And if they're not interested, it's a learning experience: other children are not required to share their toys if they don't want to, just like he's not required to share his. Sharing is a nice thing to do, but in most cases, it's not mandatory.)

Ultimately, I want my son to share for the right reasons. I have no problem with talking to him and helping him to recognize times when it'd be nice to share. Better yet, I talk him through things when possible, so that the idea to share comes from him, rather than from me. I want him to share because it's more fun when everyone can play, and it feels good to let others use your things (so long as they give them back, of course).

And taking turns? I definitely believe in that, as kids can get much more behind this idea. But I don't think someone else should necessarily get a turn the moment they express interest. There's nothing wrong with teaching our kids to wait for the things they want.

In the case of the wildflower computer at the Natural History Museum, the boy did come back awhile later, and while Bug was still pretty absorbed, he'd also had a fair amount of time to play. I told him he could look at three more flowers, and then we'd move on so that others could play too. And after those three flowers were done (we counted down), he got up with absolutely no complaints.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins

Ever have one of those days where you just want to eat cupcakes for breakfast?

No? Just me?

Come on, now, be honest. Everyone wants to eat cake for breakfast sometimes, but most of us are too responsible to actually do so. (At least, we are once we're no longer teenagers.) But that's where muffins come in to play.

The last time I announced that I was having chocolate chocolate-chip muffins for breakfast, a friend asked what the difference was between them and a cupcake. Hmm. Lack of frosting, perhaps? These are also just a little bit denser than cupcakes; they don't have that same airy cake feel. On top of that, these muffins have a banana and some applesauce baked into them, which obviously makes them healthy.

So the next time you feel like indulging for breakfast, make yourself some muffins instead!

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins

1¾ c flour
¼ c cocoa powder
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 ripe banana
¼ c applesauce
½ c milk (I use nondairy, but I imagine cow milk would work just as well)
2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract (optional)
1 tbsp oil
½ c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. In a blender (or in a smaller bowl and using an immersion blender), combine banana with applesauce with milk, water, extracts, and oil. Blend until smooth. Mix into dry ingredients until just combined (leave it a bit lumpy!). Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared muffin tins. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick poked into the middle of one comes out clean (allowing for the fact that sometimes you'll hit a chocolate chip, and that of course won't come out completely clean at all).


This post is shared at the Happy, Healthy, Green, & Natural Party Blog Hop on 8/24/2015.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Never Stop Learning

Welcome to the August 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Life Learners
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have talked about how they continue learning throughout life and inspire their children to do the same.


When I was younger, I used to secretly believe that others were judging me for the amount of "formal" education I had completed.

I graduated high school, then I pushed my way through two and a half years of community college. With an associate degree to hang on my wall, I was ready to be done. I was burned out on school. I didn't want to take on gigantic loans in order to complete a four-year degree. I didn't even know what I'd major in if I did keep going. And since I was about to move out of my mama's house and into my own apartment, with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, I knew I would need to devote my time and energy to working and paying the bills.

I was at peace with that decision on a personal level, but since I had so many friends who got a Bachelor's and beyond, and since I worked with so many people who had so much more education than me, I always found myself wondering on some level whether it was really enough. Would people respect me more if I had a higher degree? Would I get paid more? Would it be worth the time, energy, and money to pursue more schooling? Should I go back?

Ultimately, I never did go "back" to school. Well, I'm currently working on a certificate program, but I never went back for a B.A. And I'm not sure that I ever will.

But that doesn't mean I stopped learning.

On the contrary, I think that the most important things I know now are things that I have taught myself in the years since finishing high school and college. (I don't actually remember much of what I learned in school, to be honest... I was always good at writing essays and taking tests, but not at actually retaining information for long-term use.)

Most of the things I pride myself in knowing now are not subjects I set out to learn about. Not formally, anyway. Most of them are, to me, life skills. Things that, as I grew and understood myself better, I realized I needed to know more about in order to become the kind of person I aspired to be. Things that can be taught in a classroom, but that really need to be experienced in real life in order to fully have a handle on.

When I first moved out, I honestly didn't know how to cook. This was despite growing up with a mama who cooked for most of my younger years, despite voluntarily taking a cooking class in high school. Sure, I could bake cookies and pumpkin pie. I could make macaroni and cheese from a box and heat up frozen veggies. I could boil frozen tortellini and dress them with jarred marinara sauce.
But I didn't know how to cook. And I realized that if I wanted to be successful and happy as a vegetarian, I needed to learn how to cook. Real food. And so I did.

My mama is fond of saying that anyone who can read is capable of cooking. And that is so completely true, at least in my experience. I bought cookbooks and found recipes that sounded appealing. I looked up cooking terms on the Internet when I didn't understand them. I got into the kitchen and, by golly, I learned how to cook! Sure, I failed on a number of occasions along the way. I burned things, undercooked things, turned out a few meals that D and I couldn't eat more than a single bite of. But the more I practiced, the better I got. And while I'm certainly no expert chef now, I can cook the kind of food I like and want. And I am relatively confident that I can pick up any new cookbook, any new recipe, and have a good chance of successfully reproducing that meal on my own.

Teaching Bug to knead bread.

For me, that's the way a lot of learning has happened over the years: a willingness to discover new skills + lots of reading and researching on my own time.

When I wanted to learn how to knit, I took a class to help me get the basics down. I followed the class up with lots of practice and a bunch of pattern books. I'm not a particularly talented knitter, but when I have the time (not often, these days), I can follow almost any pattern and produce something workable.

When I decided I wanted to learn how to can things, I bought a book, hit the farmers' market for some produce, and made a few jars of jam. I've burned a batch or two, but I've also become proficient enough that I haven't bought jam from the store for years.

When I wanted to learn more about yoga, I started out with DVDs and books, then eventually graduated to taking live classes. I can practice now at home, on my own, building strength and flexibility on my own schedule, when I need to decompress or just get comfortable in my own skin.

When Bug watches me practice, he usually wants to practice too! Which then encourages me to practice more often!

When I was pregnant, I picked up tons of books to learn how to give birth. After I finally figured out which books were the good ones, I learned the basics but ultimately learned that I'd have to rely on myself, since birth is truly not something you can learn ahead of time (although classes and reading are a great way to prepare yourself!). And when I opened myself to trusting my intuition, I learned that I could, in fact, give birth exactly the way I wanted to. All of my parenting "skills" have been acquired in much the same way: listening to my intuition and reading any and all books that seem to speak to the kind of parent I want to be.

When I wanted to start making Halloween costumes for my son, I went out and bought a sewing machine. I poured over the instruction manual, learned how to read patterns, watched a few videos on YouTube, and eventually turned out a pretty decent costume. Since then, I've made pajama pants for the entire family, and I'm looking forward to some other sewing projects in the future.

These skills have served me so much better than anything I've ever learned in formal school. And I learn more every day, simply by continuing to remain open to new experiences.

This is not to say that there is no value in formal education; there is plenty, and different amounts work for different people. But school is not the only place where learning takes place, and learning doesn't stop once we've got that diploma hanging on the wall. We are so much more than the sum of our degrees and certificates.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • The Financial Advice That Saved My Marriage — Shortly after they got married, Emily at Natural Parents Network and her husband visited a financial planner. Many of the goals and priorities they set back then are now irrelevant, but one has stuck with them through all of the employment changes, out-of-state-moves, and child bearing: allowances.
  • Lifelong Learning — Survivor at Surviving Mexico--Adventures and Disasters writes about how her family's philosophy of life-long learning has aided them.
  • Inspiring Children to be Lifelong Learners — Donna from Eco-Mothering discusses the reasons behind her family's educational choices for their daughter, including a wish list for a lifetime of learning.
  • Always Learning — Kellie at Our Mindful Life loves learning, and lately she's undertaken a special project that her family has been enjoying sharing with her.
  • We're all unschoolers — Lauren at Hobo Mama embraces the joy in learning for its own sake, and wants to pass that along to her sons as she homeschools.
  • My children, my teachers Stoneageparent shares how becoming a parent has opened doors into learning for her and her family, through home education and forest school.
  • Never Stop Learning — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses her belief that some of the most important things she knows now are things she's learned since finishing "formal" schooling.
  • Learning is a Lifelong Adventure — Learning has changed over time for Life Breath Present, and she is more excited and interested now than ever before.
  • Facebook: The Modern Forum — Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains why Facebook is today's forum - a place where people from all walks of life can meet to discuss philosophies, debate ideas, and share information.
  • 10 Ways to Learn from Everyday Life (Inspired by my Life in Japan) — Erin at And Now, for Something Completely Different offers tips she learned while living in Japan to help you learn from everyday life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: A Bone to Pick

The more I read about food, the more I realize I don't know nearly enough about it.

Right now, this is more true than ever before. I find myself constantly curious about all things food. Where is it grown? What kinds of chemicals are used, and are those chemicals dangerous to me? How can I avoid them? What does organic actually mean in this day and age? What's the real deal with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)? Should I really be concerned about factory farming? What's worse, fat or sugar? Or gluten? Should I go paleo? Or maybe vegan?

There are no easy answers to those questions, and the more I read about them, the more confused I get. But still, I keep reading.

My interest in nutrition and the way food is produced in our country has led me to spend countless hours reading books about food. So many I could never possibly list them all. Eating in the Dark, VB6, The China Study, What the Fork Are You Eating?, Wheat Belly, Animal Factory...

And now, A Bone to Pick by Mark Bittman.

Mark Bittman is already well-known for his prolific food writing; he's written several books and years worth of columns for The New York Times. In fact, this book is a collection of some of Bittman's most informative and popular columns from the past several years.

It is a tribute to the sad state of the food industry in America that the information offered in these columns has not changed in the years since they were initially published. We still don't label GMOs; animals still live and die in horrific conditions in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) across the country; dietary advice from "the experts" still changes from day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, and different foods or nutrients go from good to bad to good again. We still have horrific outbreaks of food borne illnesses with alarming regularity. We still subsidize "bad" foods with taxpayer money.

Bittman offers his insight on these issues and more throughout the pages of A Bone to Pick. What's great about this book is that it provides information in small, digestible bites (if you'll forgive the pun). Certainly, many of the readers who will be drawn to this book will be self-described "foodies" (and he's got a column about that, too), but Bittman's straightforward writing style and the topics he covers will appeal to readers across the spectrum.

Don't pick up this book expecting to hear a long discussion on the virtues or organic farming or the reasons why most people would be better off if they ate less meat. Instead, Bittman will introduce you to some of the most important facts related to these and other topics that he feels are important. He talks about the importance of bettering conditions in all areas of food production; yes, better farm practices are important, but so is ending slavery in Florida tomato fields (and yes, that does still happen, even in our "enlightened" times), increasing pay for food workers, and doing something about all of that junk food advertised to young, vulnerable consumers. He does a little bit of digging into that flawed study that claimed that organic foods are no better than conventional foods. He even proposes some of his own ideas for better food labels.

A Bone to Pick is full of fascinating little discussions about everything food. This is a book that can be understood by anyone and should be read by everyone.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

8 Summer Picture Books for Toddlers & Preschoolers

Welcome to the July 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Summer Fun
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about how to get out and enjoy the warmer season as a family.


It's officially summer, and what better way to celebrate than with a good book?
July is when the temperatures really start to heat up in Southern California, and on days when we don't have a car, going out to parks or the beach isn't really an option. So instead, we fall back upon our favorite pastime: reading.

With that thought, here is a (short) list of eight picture books that I feel really embody the feel of summer. If you're looking for something new to add to your bookshelves at home, or even just something to borrow from your local library, give one of these a try.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

A little girl goes blueberry picking with her mother, while a little bear goes blueberry eating with his mother. But little ones sometimes get tired of walking, and before they know it, the families have gotten separated and all mixed up! I loved this book when I was a child, so I made sure to find a copy after I had a child of my own. And, not surprisingly, my son loves this story! Blueberry season is in full swing around here, and he just loves curling up with a big bowl of blueberries and our battered well-loved copy of Blueberries for Sal. The story is sweet, and my three-year-old loves the pictures, despite the fact that they are black-and-white. This is a year-round favorite for us, but it just seems extra perfect during the warm months when blueberries are freshly available.

Poppy the Pirate Dog by Liz Kessler

When the Brown family goes on vacation to the seashore, they bring along their dalmatian dog, Poppy. And when Poppy finds a skull-and-crossbones scarf at a local store, it doesn't take long for the kids to dub her "Poppy the Pirate Dog." The family tries all kinds of boat trips that week, but none of them seem quite right to Poppy. Will she ever find her pirate ship? Aside from the fact that this story takes place during summer vacation, Poppy the Pirate Dog has a sense of adventure and playfulness that just embodies the summer season. This book consists of five short chapters, and this format combined with its simple vocabulary make it a great choice for early readers, although even non-readers will love the story and adorable pictures.

Let It Shine by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

If you're looking for a short, easy read, then Let It Shine has you covered. Except reading this book is, for us anyway, anything but short! Sure, there aren't a huge amount of words, but just exploring the gorgeous illustrations in this book will keep little ones busy for a good while. These pictures invite so many questions, both on the part of parents (as an educational thing) and on the part of curious youngsters. Some people think that this book (and the others in the seasonal series) are best suited for really young kids, but don't be surprised if your child continues to enjoy it through preschool and beyond.

Biscuit's First Beach Day by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

It's time for a beach adventure with Biscuit, everyone's favorite yellow puppy! (Well, perhaps not the favorite of everyone... I know a lot of parents who quickly get tired of the endless "Woof, woof!"s, but we continue to enjoy this series in our home.) Biscuit plays in the ocean, hunts for seashells, and has a picnic with his friend, Puddles, and the little girls who love them both. Biscuit's First Beach Day is great for younger readers, although most preschoolers will love it too, especially if they are a fan of other books featuring this undeniably adorable puppy.

Llama Llama Sand & Sun by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama is off to the beach with his mama! This cute, short (did I mention it's short!?) board book is full of touch-and-feel action. There isn't much of a story, per se, but there is plenty for little fingers to explore, and the simple rhyming words make it potentially a good teaching book for learning readers. This one probably won't hold the attention of little ones over the age of four or five, but for really, really little kids, especially kids who already love other books about Llama Llama, this one is pretty fun.

Baby Loves Summer! by Karen Katz

What kinds of fun summer things can baby discover in this lift-the-flap book? How about ice cream, an inner tube, and, of course, the sun! Here's another one that's great for young readers, but probably won't really be enjoyed too much by older preschoolers or kindergarteners. Karen Katz's bright illustrations and fun patterns are much loved by children (my three-year-old son still adores her books!), while the lift-the-flap format is great for babies and toddlers (so long as parents can accept the fact that the flaps will most likely be torn off at some point...). Personally, I am less fond of this book than some of the others by this author, but my son loves it all the same.

The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp by Stan & Jan Berenstain

A list of summer picture books wouldn't be complete without one celebrating the honorable tradition of summer camp, even if most preschoolers are still years away from the experience. When Brother Bear and Sister Bear agree to try out Grizzly Bob's Day Camp, they're not sure what it'll be like. But it only takes a few days before they discover just how much fun camp is, and soon they're playing games, making crafts, and developing new skills! Like all Berenstain Bears books, The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp is a big lengthy for a picture book, but my son, at least, loves it anyway. The book has a nice message and the usual cute illustrations, and it's in heavy rotation in our home.

The Sunchildren: Celebrating the Summer Solstice by Ancient Amber

For families who are interested in celebrating the season in a nontraditional way, the books in "The Sunchildren" series have you covered. Celebrating the Summer Solstice is about just that: creative thanksgiving for the beginning of summer. The artwork is friendly and fun, and the clever story will appeal to all children, while parents will find themselves charmed by the idea, even if they themselves don't celebrate the solstice.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
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